Sherlock Holmes and the Cocaine Habit

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The ideal Victorian Gentleman was never arrogant or weak. He acted with the impulse of a kind heart, he was too wise to despise trifles and too noble to be mastered by them; he was respectful to superiors without servility; courteous to equals; and kind to inferiors. In truth, however, according to, a gentleman rarely exhibited the qualities he emphasized. For example, the quality that separated men from gentlemen was technically right of birth, despite the fact that Victorian ideals stressed that birth alone could not make a gentleman. This contradiction made the Victorian gentleman a paradox. Victorians in general, not just gentlemen, took a strong interest in foreign countries and cultures, such as India, Africa, and China. This was because of England’s colonization during the late 1800’s. This imperialism brought many treasures back to the Victorians, such as tea, hookah, opium, and the versatile substance cocaine. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective Sherlock Holmes exemplified the traits of a gentleman, and the spirit of the Victorian era in the story The Sign of Four because while Holmes is remembered for his remarkable powers of deduction, and was viewed as a gentleman of society, his complete disregard for class separation, eccentric hobbies and habits, and his lack of social inclinations contradicted his upper-class background.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself was a paradox in that he greatly resented the success of the stories that made him famous. Doyle wrote his first Sherlock Holmes tale, “A Study in Scarlet”, at a time when he desperately needed money. After the story was published, Doyle continued to write the little tales for “The Strand” magazine in between waiting for patients at his somewhat unsuccessful medical practice. The popularity of these ‘frivolous’ works, much to Doyle’s admitted dismay, skyrocketed, until they eclipsed Doyle’s other works almost entirely. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a physician who, like his character Dr. Watson, served in the army. He served as the ship’s medic aboard a boat headed to the coast of Africa, and wrote several historical novels. In 1902 he was knighted for his support of the British cause during the Great Boer War. In the end, however, it was Sherlock Holmes that the public remembered Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for, not the many great achievements that made him, in every respect, a true Gentleman.

The Sign of Four tells a thrilling tale of mystery, adventure, and romance to a lesser degree. This tale begins with the arrival of the lovely Miss Mary Morstan on the doorstep of 221b Baker Street. She begs for the assistance of Sherlock Holmes in finding an explanation to a mysterious letter she’d received earlier that day. Holmes and Watson eagerly accept the case and head off on a thrilling adventure involving pygmies, vengeful soldiers, and six pearls. In the end, it is realized that a person’s life can change for the better even during poor circumstances, such as Dr. Watson’s romantic marriage to the unfortunately un-wealthy Mary Morstan. Throughout the events of this tale, Sherlock Holmes proved that he was, in his own way, an ideal Victorian Gentleman. However, the very qualities that made him a gentleman also made him very different from the typical Victorian Gentleman. While Gentlemen stressed the view that class was not important in the treatment of people, they typically did not enforce this ideal. Sherlock Holmes, on the other hand, never allowed class separation to affect his treatment of others. Holmes’ eccentricities also separated him from the idyllic image of gentility that he was made out to be. Another quality that was typical of the Victorian Gentleman was that he was generally a very social being, attending functions and whatnot. Sherlock Holmes, however, wasn’t social at all. In fact, he could be very cold toward other people, even the one person that he called his friend, John Watson. This unusual, almost misanthropic behavior...
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